Michigan officials are expressing outrage after learning toxic waste from an Ohio train derailment earlier this month has been transported to Wayne County.
U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell said at a news conference Friday evening that some solid waste was delivered earlier this week to a Wayne County site, and five trucks of liquid waste arrived Friday. Dingell, D-Dearborn, U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Wayne County Executive Warren Evans were not informed of the toxic waste transport and Dingell said that they’d only learned about it Friday “through the grapevine.” A spokesman for Whitmer could not be immediately reached.
The toxic waste, containing a carcinogenic chemical, vinyl chloride, comes from a freight truck derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, on Feb. 3 by Norfolk Southern, the Associated Press reported.
Evans said he and other leaders should have been informed directly about what materials are coming in, where they are going and how they are being transported.
“We have a right to know, 1.8 million people have the right to know,” he said. “If it’s being transported into our communities, how are you coming? What roads are you taking?
“Those are very elementary questions. It’s not the kind of thing we should be learning five minutes before a press conference,” said Evans, adding he was “irritated,” and that the situation looks “nefarious,” even though the intentions might not be.
Solid toxic waste was sent to the US Ecology Wayne Disposal Inc. Hazardous Waste Landfill in Belleville, and liquid toxic waste was sent to Republic Industrial and Energy Solutions LLC facility in Romulus, according to the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE).
A spokesperson for US Ecology could not be immediately reached Friday.
Dingell said that she was informed around 7:30 p.m. Friday that no more waste will be coming to Michigan for the time being.
Evans suggested that the decision to halt the toxic material transfer for now was prompted by inquiries from his office and other state and congressional leaders.
“Advocacy changed the game plan some,” he said. “I’m jaundiced to it all, just because common sense dictates to me that you’d be straightforward and upfront.”
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had said on Tuesday that it was taking over the East Palestine site, Dingell said, but the order was not signed until Friday.
Abdul El-Sayed, director of the county’s health, human and veterans services department, said that exposure to vinyl chloride can cause lung inflammation, glucose intolerance symptoms and liver issues. However, the research on vinyl chloride is mostly from studies in factory-setting exposure to the chemical, he said.
“We don’t actually know what the long term slow exposure at some chronic level actually does to a body, and unfortunately, what we’re going to find out is what’s happening in East Palestine,” said El-Sayed, who formerly ran the Detroit Health Department.
CNN reported that some East Palestine residents have developed rashes, sore throats, nausea and headaches, and they fear new symptoms from chemical exposure.
In an emailed statement to BridgeDetroit, EGLE said the department was made aware of the shipment on Friday.
EGLE stated that Norfolk Southern Railroad chose the sites for waste disposal, and that the state has no authority to require approval for individual shipments of hazardous material or to prohibit hazardous waste from being transported for disposal across state lines. The soils may need pre-treatment depending on the type and concentration of contaminants, the EGLE statement added.
The agency “oversees extensive monitoring” and conducts surprise inspections of the facilities.
Norfolk Southern Corp. in a statement Friday said that the material will be transported to landfills and disposal facilities that are designed to accept it safely in accordance with state and federal regulations.
“We are unable to disclose the locations,” the statement adds.
Tlaib noted Friday that US Ecology has been “problematic” especially for its operations near Hamtramck and Detroit’s east side.
“(We were) only aware of this coming in because of the derailment and what it did to East Palestine, Ohio,” she said. “Where’s it going? An injection well in the largest populated county in our state. I hope we’re also asking what else they have been bringing over from other states.”